I have had considerable problems trying to flatten maple woodblocks by hand for printing on an etching press.

I often print with a jig below the block to allow me to register multiple colors -- the jig may not be completely flat, but I don't think that is the main problem. The roller on an etching press is extremely precise, so the block must be incredibly flat, otherwise shallow areas will not print (see trial prints, also 2 prints with different pressures).

Before chiselling in a design, a perfect rectangle must be able to be printed; which often proves elusive. It's fairly easy to flatten smaller sizes, but as the size of the block increases, the more difficult it is to flatten a block. My blocks are relatively small, though.

After initial experiences with warping, I was able to order quarter-sawn and rift-sawn Maple and allow them to acclimate to the humidity where I work, which has worked out; much less warping. I use the maple because of the detail.

I have tried a wide variety of techniques. I've gotten better with a Stanley #4 hand plane, but I get some pockmarks, although the edges come out crisp and square. Invariably, if I try to flatten the block with sandpaper wrapped around plexiglass, the edges will become rounded no matter what I do.

I've come to realize I'd have to work on a larger block, then cut it down on a table saw to avoid rounding of the edges. I've tried adding wood and/or tape to the bottom of the block (a technique called "make-ready," image attached) and planing from the bottom as well.

I am aware of jointers and planers and their differences; they're just a bit beyond my budget presently. Someone suggested a belt sander, which might be cheaper but not sure if that would round off the edges.

trial prints flattening with sandpaper under plexi 2 different printing pressures "make-ready" technique - adding material to back of block

  • my first this would be why not put the sand paper on a piece of glass/plexi-glass and move the wood block against that? if you have a big enough piece of sand paper stuck down (on a flat surface) you shouldn't round the edges by moving the block flat against it. The edges round because move the sand paper over the wood, it wraps around the block just a little bit. I've found it easier to flatten wood by doing it this way and you can get some pretty sharp edges.
    – bowlturner
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 4:08
  • Thanks. I have tried it with the woodblock on top, taping the sandpaper down, but I find it also seems to round the wood on the edges for some reason.
    – Sketcher
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 4:44
  • Hi, welcome to Woodworking! Getting an absolutely flat, and flawless, surface by hand in a wood as hard as maple is actually quite difficult (understatement) — our general standard for "flat" isn't clinically flat/level, it's flat enough that a surface looks and/or feels flat, which despite appearances is a huge step below what I think you need. I think sanding is actually THE way to do it at the end of the day (with planing to get you close to the end result) but it's still a ton of work. This would be far far less onerous using one or more machine tools to help.
    – Graphus
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 8:52
  • 1
    Thanks to all the suggestions and the welcome! My Stanley #4 plane is an excellent model. I still don't completely understand the two knobs in the back that affect the top and bottom of the rear of the blade. Sometimes the plane shaves wonderfully and other times I'm clearly not doing something right, getting tear-out. I do sharpen the blade at intervals. I'll look up the further plane pointers on the forum and study the plane suggestion. I'm thinking I may have to break down and buy some sort of less expensive, small jointer-planer at some point.
    – Sketcher
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 12:25
  • 1
    Used thickness planers are often quite reasonably priced, as would the option of finding someone with a machine and borrowing time. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:16


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